The Seer – Snippet 62
“No more. You will not speak of this again.”
Amarta considered leaving Dirina and Pas here while she took the hunter’s attention away. That would be best for everyone. But in her visions, the only futures in which Emendi stayed in Kusan included the ones in which the three of them left together. Somehow that mattered.
“If you stay,” she stuttered, “I think you and Pas — Diri, you might die with the others.”
“Then I will die with the others!”
At last Amarta’s resolve broke. She began to sob. If she could not even convince her sister, she was done with the attempt. She, too, would stay and die. At least now they wouldn’t have to leave Kusan.
Maybe the Emendi really did have a plan that would save them. Maybe she really was wrong.
“No, no, no.” Dirina said, taking Amarta in her arms, hugging her so tightly she could barely breathe. Then softly in her ear: “Of course we must go, Ama. Forgive my selfishness and foolishness. There are too many here who have lives yet to live, who have given us so much. If we must go to save Kusan, then of course we must go. Tell me what to do.”
It was not hard to smuggle food from meals, from the kitchen, and hide it in their blankets and packs.
More difficult by far was to pretend nothing was amiss.
With Nidem, who knew her better than anyone, she could pretend to still be sorrowing for Darad. Nidem, so elated to have been chosen for the next out-trip, was herself distracted.
When Amarta saw Dirina sitting with Kosal, laughing, touching the young man’s face, she was furious. How dare her sister engage thus, knowing they were leaving? How dare she be happy while Amarta suffered?
Then she realized that Dirina, too, was pretending. Acting as if nothing had changed. Better than Amarta had. Convincingly enough to fool her. Dirina must hurt, as well.
Amarta’s resentment melted.
At night she would go up to the gardens to see the summer stars and moon and track the days. She could not afford to make a mistake about when they were to leave, which she now knew must, for some reason, follow the next Emendi out-trip, yet come before the full moon. Somewhere in that handful of days they would leave.
She relied on vision to tell her when, but on her own eyes to know the day in which it might say so.
So many pieces. Often they made no sense. She might, if she were lucky, know the what, but rarely the why.
They must, for example, include in their packs scraps of yarn of certain colors, which she smuggled out of the mending room. She must give away her cloak, the one with scraps of her mother’s blue dress sewn into the hem. They must leave at exactly the right hour, and take the right set of stairs.
Whatever they had to do, they would do. She and Dirina were agreed: more important than anything was to keep Kusan whole.
Nidem laughed at her reaction. “You didn’t know me, did you?”
With the dark hair and tinted eyebrows, Amarta had walked right past Nidem before the girl had snickered and grabbed her shoulder, pulling her around.
“I look Arunkin, now, don’t I?”
So very, Amarta signed. No Emendi here.
We hide in the walls.
Like the ferrets.
“I’ve never been out past the gardens before.” Nidem was vibrating with eagerness.
A flash of vision: Horse pulling wagon, a winding road on limestone turning to grassland.
We’re going farther this time,” Nidem said. “To a larger market. So many things there, they say. Tools, ink, spices –”
Amarta felt the present shift and the future follow; a puzzle piece was only now forming, just falling into place.
A body on the ground wore her cloak. By the blue trim was a dark, spreading stain.
Nidem saw her face change. “Listen to me, going on and on. I didn’t mean to brag, Ama. Do you wish you could come, too? We could ask.”
Amarta’s stomach turned over. Her response stuck in her throat as if the words were spiked. She forced a smile anyway.
Nidem. It was Nidem.
She swallowed hard, pretending as fiercely as she could, pretending joy for her friend.
Kusan, she reminded herself.
“I’m only worried about you.”
Nidem hugged her. “I want to go. Be happy for me instead.”
At this Amarta managed a nod, her stomach going leaden as she forced herself to say the words that made her feel sick, the words she knew she had to say.
“I have something for you, for your trip. A gift.”
The three of them made their way quietly from their sleeping room. This staircase, Amarta insisted, gesturing, not the other.
Even Pas was quiet. Young he might be, Amarta realized, but they had been leaving places for all his life, and he knew when to be silent.
They climbed stairs, walked corridors, and stepped into the chamber that led to the outside door.
“I knew you would do this. Sneak off in the night like cowards.”
Darad stood in front of the door that was their exit.
How had she not foreseen this? She had seen what she had to, in order to save the city. She could not see everything.
“We must,” she said. It’s…” Her explanation shriveled at the revulsion on Darad face.
“For everyone’s benefit,” Dirina finished for her, holding Pas’s hand tight. Pas wanted to run to Darad, as he always had. He pressed his small lips together in sorrow, somehow understanding.
“Without even saying good-bye,” Darad spat. “After all my people have done for you.”
“You didn’t seem to care very much what I said,” Amarta shot back, finding her own anger painfully aflame again.
“Why should I care? I knew you were only going to leave.”
“How could you possibly know that?” Amarta felt a new idea cut through her anger. Could Darad share her ability to see into the future? For a dizzying moment she realized she should have confided in long ago. They could have shared everything, and whatever it was that had torn them apart could have been overcome. If he saw the future, too —
“Because I heard. At the market. Who you are.”
“What?” Amarta said, confused.
“What did you hear about us?” Dirina demanded.
“A man offered me coin for information about a girl, a woman, and a small boy. You three,” he pointed, his finger trembling. “Runaways from one of the Great Houses, he said, on some grand adventure. They want you home, you know. Offering a reward for your return.”
“No!” Amarta said, outraged. “That’s not true. We’ve never even been to Yarpin. We have no House. We have nothing.”
“So you’ve said, again and again,” he responded with an ugly smile.
“It’s true,” Dirina insisted.
He sneered. “Don’t worry. I’ve told no one your precious little secret, despite how tempted I was to make some good coin on you.”
“It’s easy to tell lies about people,” Amarta said hotly.
“I agree with you there,” he said. “So easy to lie. You ought to know.”
“I never lied, never. I –”
“Hush,” Dirina warned at the increasing volume between them.
In a way he was right: she had lied. To him, to everyone. About what she was. About why they had come to Kusan. About the danger she brought with her.
But not this accusation. This wretched story.
“You don’t know,” Amarta said. “There’s so much you don’t know.”
“I know plenty.”
“Ama,” Dirina again, urgently. “The time.”
He stood aside from the exit, gave a mocking, inviting gesture to the opening. “Have your fun little adventure, you wretched slavers.”
“What an awful thing to say. We were friends to you. We –”
“We must go,” Dirina said sharply.
“You were never one of us, Amarta al Arunkel. I am filled with joy to see you leave.”
Amarta shook off Dirina’s warning touch, facing him, wanting to say more, one last thing, something cutting and witty, or even sweet, something he would never forget, that one day he would think back on and somehow understand what had really happened here and how wrong he had been.
But no words came. Instead she simply stared, and he stared back, his smile carved as if from stone.
Dirina took Amarta’s arm and squeezed until it hurt, finally breaking through her anguish and fury. “Ama,” she said. “The moon. If we don’t go now, none of this will matter.”